Made without Hands


Gilbert Hage’s book 242 cm2 (Underexposed Books, 2012) presents twenty-two landscape photographs that were taken in 2006, in the aftermath of the latest Israeli war on Lebanon; each of these photographs is 242 cm2 in area and is titled “242 cm2.” Why did he title each thus? What made him consider that each of these photographs had to be in a one-to-one reproduction ratio in relation to its referent? Did he try to zoom in on them but failed to successfully do so notwithstanding that according to the technical specs of his camera, he should have been able to do it? Whether he tried to or not, one cannot zoom in on such objects—thus they are auratic natural objects!1 While moving away after taking one of these photographs, did Hage have a similar impulse to the one a spectator is likely to feel when having ostensibly concluded looking at Hans Holbein the Younger’s The Ambassadors (1533) he or she moves away toward the right to leave the room in the National Gallery in London: to turn and look again at the object? Did he yield to the impulse? What would he have seen then if “242 cm2” is a rigorous title of the photograph that is 242 cm2 in area? If he could still at that distance discern the specific “small” piece of land he photographed, and distinguish it from the surrounding ostensibly largely similar landscape, he would have seen that that piece of land would have overlapped part of what was the adjoining area! Toward any of these 242 cm2 zones that Gilbert Hage photographed, one cannot move without either undergoing a lapse of consciousness only to find oneself at the right distance from it, the one from which it would occupy 242 cm2 of one’s field of vision; or becoming entranced, thus concurrently not moving, again since, irrespective of one’s movement, it continues to occupy 242 cm2 of one’s field of vision. As with an anamorphosis, where there is one point of view from which it becomes clear what the anamorphic stain or smudge is, there is a specific distance from which the part-object that is the referent of one of these Hage photographs (themselves part-objects: an image that can only be in a one-to-one reproduction ratio in relation to its referent functions as a part-object) appears to be fully part of the landscape, fitting seamlessly in it: the distance from which it covers exactly 242 cm2 of the field of vision (it is when standing at this distance to that spot that one may naively assume that one has taken a normal photograph in terms of its relation to its referent); at all other distances, it does not fit seamlessly in the landscape to which one has presumed it belongs, but is too small or too big for the relative size one expects it to have, either leaving a blank between it and the surrounding landscape (this blank acts as a frame) or else overlapping part of the latter (this sort of anomaly would have been easier to notice had the photographed area been, say, 10,424 cm2—how lucky Hage happened to be, or how intuitively prudent he was, to have photographed a smaller area!). Is Lebanon bigger than one of these 242 cm2 zones that Hage photographed? It is bigger than one of them from the reference frame of someone close enough to these zones; as one moves away (in trance) from them, while they continue to occupy 242 cm2 of one’s field of vision, the rest of Lebanon appears smaller and smaller, until, past a certain distance, it appears to be as small as and then, as one’s distance to them becomes even larger, smaller than the sum of these 242 cm2 zones that are ostensibly part of it, and then, as one’s distance to it becomes still larger, smaller than a single one of these 242 cm2 zones. Indeed, from a certain distance, Lebanon, with its 10,424 square kilometers, about which Lebanese nationalists (chief among them Bachir Gemayel, the one-time commander of the Lebanese Forces militia, who was imposed as president of Lebanon by the Israeli occupation forces only to be assassinated three weeks into his term) stood their ground and stuck to their guns, would look tinier than the various 242 cm2 zones Hage photographed in that country, since these maintain their size of 242 cm2 in the field of vision from any distance. I would term the referents of these Hage photos icons. Hence I consider that one would be well advised to look for icons in Lebanon less, if at all, in that country’s many Orthodox churches than in the referents of the photographs of Gilbert Hage’s book 242 cm2. Hage’s “242 cm2” photographs are indexical representations of icons, but they are not themselves icons2 (for the photographs of these 242 cm2 zones to prove to be themselves icons, they have to continue to occupy 242 cm2 of the field of vision irrespective of one’s movement toward or away from them; this is not the case with Hage’s photographs). Hage’s photographs of these 242 cm2 zones are far more deserving of becoming iconic, this time in the sense of “very famous and well known, and believed to represent a particular idea” (Macmillan Dictionary), than such frequently photographed and filmed touristic attractions as Raouche’s Pigeons’ Rock in Beirut and the cedars in Lebanon and on the Lebanese flag.

One can find Gilbert Hage’s book here at the artist’s website.


1. A line in my book What Were You Thinking? (Berlin: Berliner Künstlerprogramm/DAAD, 2011) appears to imply that black holes and their event horizons from the reference frame of an outside observer are the only natural objects that have aura: “If there is a natural object that has aura, it is the black hole and its event horizon from the reference frame of an outside observer” (pp. 27–28).

2. Were the referent of one of these 242 cm2 photos titled “242 cm2” to be filmed, the filmmaker has to specify on which screening format (for example the huge screen of an IMAX theater, a large TV screen or a small computer screen) it is to be shown exclusively or make different versions for the various screening formats so that the image of the object continues to be 242 cm2.



Elie Saab Fall 2010 RTW

Elie Saab: Magdalena Frackiowack (ELITE); Photo: Marcio Madeira/


Chloe Fall 2011 RTW

Chloé: Zuzanna Bijoch (NEXT); Photo: Marcus Tondo/



Chloé: Sigrid Agren (ELITE); Photo: Marcio Madeira/


Kanye West Fall 2012 RTW

Kanye West: Anja Rubik (NEXT); photo: Alessandro Viero/


Replacement Therapy


[Video loop, color, silent]

The Replacement Therapy project was conceived and executed during an artist residency at the Lou Harrison Straw Bale House in Joshua Tree. In the small courtyard that I had turned into my studio I used furniture and other household items to construct and then de-construct a large-scale ephemeral sculpture. As is the case with much of my other work, Replacement Therapy investigates ideas about “home.” The piece was inspired by the hormone-driven and at times comical urge to obsessively sort, group, arrange and especially re-arrange, a phenomenon that can occur during pregnancy, the menstrual cycle (PMS), or peri-menopause. The idea was to exhaust myself by using as many objects as possible, building from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling without having any pre-conceived plan. I would go inside, find an object—a chair for example—carry it to the courtyard, and then find “the right spot” for it. Every time I added an object, I took a photograph. Once the space was filled I reversed the process by picking “the right object,” removing it, and carrying it back to where I’d found it, once again photographing the altered sculpture step by step until the courtyard was empty again.

With the photographs I created a stop-motion video loop in which the process of construction and de-construction is repeated ad nauseam. The viewer experiences the artist’s arbitrary or intuitive choice and placement of each object either as a surprise or, alternatively, as a lack of control; it is a similarly obsessive and draining experience. The need to build is replaced by the (less satisfying) need to watch. What will the next object be? Where will it go? How much longer will this go on? Will it collapse? When? Why am I doing (watching) this? And: when will it (I) be done?


Seat Assignment

Improvising with materials close at hand, Seat Assignment consists of photographs, video, and digital images all made while in flight using only a camera phone. The project began spontaneously on a flight in March 2010 and is ongoing. At present, over 2500 photographs and video, made on more than 40 different flights, constitute the raw material of my project.

While in the lavatory on a domestic flight in March 2010, I spontaneously put a tissue paper toilet cover seat cover over my head and took a picture in the mirror. The image evoked 15th-century Flemish portraiture. I decided to add more images made in this mode and a few months ago I decided to take advantage of a long-haul flight from San Francisco to Auckland, guessing that there were likely to be long periods of time when no one was using the lavatory on the 14-hour flight. I made several forays to the bathroom from my aisle seat, and by the time we landed I had a large group of new photographs entitled Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style. I was wearing a thin black scarf that I sometimes hung up on the wall behind me to create the deep black ground that is typical of these portraits. There is no special illumination in use other than the lavatory’s own lights and all the images are shot hand-held with the camera phone.

From the outset, I’ve been aware that what motivates Seat Assignment is the challenge of trying to make under circumstances that seemingly lack any richness or potential. Much of my work stems from the mundane and the everyday, and from my optimism that there is always more of interest around us than we think. What can I make under such constraints? Is there really always more than meets the eye? What kind of immensity can be born of necessity, within this framework? But the longer I work on Seat Assignment, the more I realize it’s also a response to the pairing of anxiety and wonderment that underpin the very experience of flying: one part of the mind swept away in the time travel fantasy of the situation (I can become 15th-century Flemish in a 21st-century lavatory as I teleport from coast to coast!), the other part thinking, as I take my seat, “These could be the 200 people that I’m going to die together with.” In that sense, this project is also born of necessity: making is a necessary response that keeps at bay too many thoughts of the immensity of what is beyond the plane, beyond the seat I sit in, and beyond myself.